Recently, I found myself talking with a good friend of mine and former colleague from my corporate days and I was adamantly reminded of the stigma presented around “vulnerability” that still seems to be so prevalent in business today.
There exists this powerful notion and implication that vulnerability is to be avoided, that by being vulnerable one is weak. This depicts, that rather, a leader must be, and should be, formidable, unemotional and unaffected in order to be successful.
But, that belief could not be further from the truth …
You see, vulnerability is not a sign of weakness, but, on the converse, it marks the distinction of the very strength within a leader.
Vulnerability is the greatest tool in a leader’s arsenal.
For it illustrates the depth of a leader’s authenticity, genuineness, compassion, and humility. Vulnerability is the very thing that makes a leader approachable, relatable, transparent, and … well, human.
Leaders so often get caught up in only being focused on the bottom line, and the return on that investment from a purely financial perspective, that they lose sight of miss opportunities to connect, engage, and grow a high-performing culture in their organization.
By which, many “untapped returns” are left on the table.
As we continue to dig further into all the aspects of ROI and where the returns for an organization really come from, you will find that a leader’s ability to walk further into their own vulnerability is an opportunity to capture greater returns.
Being vulnerable means a leader is willing to demonstrate the “walk” for others.
Employee engagement and retention increase as a result. For people don’t leave jobs, they leave cultures and management (or lack thereof). Many times employees seek other opportunities for lack of feeling heard, not being seen, or feeling disconnected from something that truly matters for them.
When leaders detach from the emotion and soul of their organization’s culture, the employees and the clients are the ones that suffer. Business is lost, the culture becomes very reactive in nature, and employees find themselves going through the motions, where they are not being fully present and engaged.
This detachment from the bigger picture yields ineffectiveness and inefficiencies, as a result. All that equates to poor performance, lost revenue, and missed opportunities. Now, it becomes just a job that pays the bills versus an environment in which they feel they bring value. And, your clients feel this, too.
So, what is the investment a leader can make?
In order to be a high-performing, thought leader, vulnerability becomes the most critical muscle to build and flex. And, it is a muscle … one, that in many cases has not been used in a very long time.
The investment in personal development, a coach or formal mentor, different accountability systems and measures all are examples of ways to help leaders connect and step into their own vulnerability.
Visible transparency, creating space to be human and make mistakes, and owning those mistakes also are required to bring vulnerability to the forefront.
From there, it becomes a trickle down effect and a way to enhance and lift the existing culture.
I know this from personal experience as I lead several high-performing teams over my career. I had mentor who told me once, “you are a powerful leader, but you would be even more effective if you would let others see your vulnerability.” At first I balked at this, she was asking me to do what??? …
But, soon I realized she was right. For if I was going to choose to show up and to serve at my highest and best level, then I also recognized that meant stepping into my own vulnerability.
My choices and my actions helped to give my team permission to do that same simply by the example I chose to set.
Trust was deepened, relationships were strengthened, and the need for perfection was released. My teams, though already high performing, rose to an entirely new level of performance. And, they were happier, more engaged, and less stressed.
They began to take greater risks, to challenge themselves and others on the team more, and they took greater personal responsibility and pride in the work they did.
Accountability was no longer simply a buzz word, but something my team fully embraced.
Lines of communication opened and grew, and individuals stepped up as leaders themselves. I asked my team to push themselves in away that really scared them, to push beyond their existing comfort zone …
For if it doesn’t scare you, it is not big enough to grow you.
I ask them to find ways to fail.
This is critical in opening up a space of vulnerability, and trust. Mind you, this freak out upper management a little (and, my team at first). But, with the established trust I earned, they gave me room to conduct my “test.”
And, man, did we get bloody in the beginning. Not only did we fall, but our newfound transparency and vulnerability had us feeling pretty uncomfortable and unsure But, we held the course and we grew tremendously together and as individuals. It was thrilling and amazing to watch every person on my team reached a new best level.
To see them stretch, to see them be fully present and engaged, to see them purposely seek out new challenges. And each person was ultimately promoted within less than 24 months from when we started.
Now, that felt like leadership to me!
Because when we choose to invest in our people, it starts with the investment we make in ourselves as leaders to demonstrate what’s truly possible, to walk the talk first. If we are not willing to take that first step, to actually walk the big talk, then how can we expect our employees and teams to do the same? How will they ever see their power and gifts, to tap into their full potential, capacity and capabilities?
Being vulnerable starts with the power of choice and is a leader’s ability to take that first step on that walk.
This is a game-changing investment with a high rate of return!
When we choose to invite vulnerability into the workplace, people feel emotionally connected to their work, to their passion and to their own WHY.
When people are clear about the WHY, engagement is high!
As a leader you then can help your employees and your teams function as high-performers playing at their highest and best levels. And, it all starts with making an investment in YOU as a leader first.
Because, remember … leadership IS a choice!